Chambers at Large in Belvoir Castle, Leicestershire, England
The first thing I learned about Belvoir is it is pronounced and spelled locally as Bever (as in the animal which builds dams!) It was named by the invading Normans as the castle is high on a hill and does look out over a beautiful view. The local English people ignored the French invader’s nomenclature and named it themselves.
My visit to the castle got off to a bad start as I, and a couple of others, had a skirmish with the parking meters, but once my money had been accepted I paid the entrance fee of £18 for castle and garden hoping it would be worth my while. It was. In fact I spent a further £4 on a guided tour which lasted two hours and I have to thank Olivia for her professionalism and font of knowledge which made my day so memorable. I’d also like to thank the people on the tour, a lovely bunch, who contributed their knowledge of history into the mix making the tour even more fun and enjoyable.
The castle is the home of the 11th Duke of Rutland and family photographs scattered around the rooms remind visitors this is a home and not a monument.
Belvoir has been rebuilt several times but the existing castle is the creation of the 5th Duke of Rutland and his wife Elizabeth. She was quite a character, having an affair with her husband’s best friend and the brainchild of one of the most beautiful withdrawing rooms, which she sadly did not see in all its glory as she died prior to its completion.
The entrance hall of the castle is most impressive boasting an array of weaponry which was used in battle and hanging from the ceiling are battle flags, which like all soldiers never die but sadly fade away. One of the fire places is a feat of architectural brilliance as its chimney goes under an upper floor allowing those in the entrance hall to get a glimpse of a host or hostess descending the main staircase. I could imagine Elizabeth’s guests standing on the lower floor waiting in anticipation to see what she would be wearing the night of any grand occasion.
I won’t reveal all of the history of the castle but an anecdote about the Marquess of Granby certainly amused me and caught my attention. He was the eldest son of the 3rd Duke of Rutland and whilst leading a cavalry charge against a large French army in 1760 his hat and wig blew off revealing his bald pate. The sun shining off his head allowed his men to see him more clearly and the English went on to win the battle. The phrase “going at something bald-headed”, comes from this highly regarded commander and his portrait, by Sir Joshua Reynolds, hangs on the wall of the dining room. The castle is also home to a portrait of Henry VIII by Hans Holbien as well as paintings by Gainsborough and Stubbs.
The rooms in the castle are spectacular and I learned about guidons, admired a huge wine cooler standing on a reinforced floor and discovered Simon Le Bon from Duran Duran had slept in the bedroom that may be used for the bride and groom if they wish to hold their reception at the castle. Such is the variety of information imparted on the tour!
The rooms are beautifully decorated and a conversation chair caught my eye in a room described by some as gaudy, but I thought it rather quaint especially being displayed alongside a baby’s cot.
Peacocks are a prominent motif especially in Elizabeth’s saloon where gold depictions of the birds circumnavigate the room. The long room, where ladies and gentlemen walked when the weather was bad, overlooks the gardens and the castle has its own chapel where services are held some Sundays.
The tour concluded in the kitchen and pastry room prompting me to enjoy a welcome cup of tea and a caramel slice, served up in the very relaxing café.
I went back around the castle to take a few photographs and admire once again the tapestries, paintings and artefacts. Time just slipped away and as I had booked to go to Sir Isaac Newton’s house several miles away I didn’t get a chance to see all of the gardens. The weather wasn’t too good either, April living up to its reputation of being showery.
I did hurry around the rose garden and would come back to see it in all its glory.
Belvoir Castle has to be one of the most magnificent and beautiful of all English castles I have visited and I’d like to thank the Duke and Duchess for allowing me access to their splendid home.